Columbia should try e-textbooks

By Lauren Kelly

Following the trend of many media outlets moving toward digital information, some publishers have made versions of their textbooks available for download online. At least seven publishers currently offer electronic textbooks through their online Web sites.

Given Columbia’s progressive student body and history of innovation, switching to e-books would be an option worth investigating. Using electronic texts could prove to be more cost-effective and convenient for students, and possibly lower their environmental footprint by eliminating paper waste, printing costs and energy for transportation.

If Columbia decided to integrate e-books into classroom use, the transition should not be done all at once. It is important for students to have the option to continue to use printed textbooks while the technology is still being developed. Also, there are some students who will always favor buying a hard copy of the text, either because they don’t like reading from a computer screen, or for the purpose of annotating and taking notes.

There will probably be a time in the future when every piece of media, including college textbooks, is electronic, but students need time to adjust to using electronic texts.

By introducing the concept of e-books and providing an option for students, the college could gauge the reaction and decide if it is worth expanding the service. Columbia could also team up with other institutions like DePaul and Loyola Universities to increase the demand for electronic texts, possibly lowering prices because of the larger volume of prospective students.

However, if students choose to download e-books for class, there needs to be a coherent way of accessing them other than reading the file on a computer screen, which would be inconvenient for students on the go. The publishers could offer a one-time printout allowance of the text, or the college could offer the digital Kindle reader at a discounted price for students as a way of transporting the text for easy accessibility.

Providing e-books for students is an option worth looking into, and if utilized effectively, could usher in a new era of digital communication on Columbia’s campus.